Monday, October 2, 2017

78 (2017-2018): Review: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (seen October 1, 2017)

“Sound and Fury”

The devilishly dangerous, searingly seductive peepers glaring at you over a glass of drug-infused milk on the Playbill cover for A Clockwork Orange belong to British actor Jonno Davies, the chief reason to visit this head-banging, ear-drumming revival of Anthony Burgess’s 1987 “Play with Music” adaptation of his 1962 dystopian novel.

Jonno Davies. Photo: Caitlin McNaney.
Davies, with the chiseled body of a classical Greek sculpture and the physical dexterity to deny any musclebound assumptions, plays Alex deLarge, the brutal leader of a gang called the Droogs, a role iconized by Malcolm McDowell in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1971 film adaptation.

Jonno Davies and company. Photo: Caitlin McNaney.
Anyone who’s ever seen that disturbing movie, about ultraviolent teenage thugs and the attempt by the authorities to alter Alex’s sadistic tendencies by psychological conditioning (think Pavlov’s dogs), will never forget its most hard-to-watch scene. I’m referring, of course, to when Alex, being used as a guinea pig to test the experimental Ludovico Technique, is fed a nausea-inducing drug while being forced to view extremely violent films by prying his eyes open with metal prongs.
Brian Lee Huynh, Jonno Davies. Photo: Caitlin McNaney.
In Alexandra Spencer-Jones’s expressionistic, minimalist staging—which comes to New York after its 2011 Edinburgh Fringe debut, an international tour, and a London production—that scene is played in a less disturbing way by having an actor crouch behind Alex and hold his fingers over Alex’s eyes. It’s a small example of the highly stylized but emotionally distancing directorial approach taken by this insistently intense yet coldly alienating production.
Jimmy Brooks, Sean Patrick Higgins, Jonno Davies, Matt Doyle, Misha Osherovich. Photo: Caitlin McNaney.
Using a pounding soundscape combining classical music (Alex’s obsession) with both known (Bowie, Placebo, etc.) and original rock music by Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott, Spencer-Jones’s work is highly choreographic, with every movement, every gesture, every expression, being precisely timed, like the mechanism after which the play is named. (One of Burgess’s explanations of the title holds that it’s a metaphor for the clash between mechanical moral forces and colorful, juicy humans.)
Sean Patrick Higgins, Matt Doyle, Misha Osherovich, Jonno Davies.
The mostly American dancer-actors in the supporting cast—all-male, thus muddying the plot’s gender issues—play multiple roles (females included); they successfully capture the Cockney accents and visceral, often shouted, dialogue, which mingles English with the Russian-inflected “Nadsat” argot spoken by the teen gangsters. Burgess’s artificial language actually assumes a poetic quality that, when robustly spoken, as here, evokes Shakespeare; of course, an hour and a half of “Once more unto the breach”-level bellowing has its limits. Even Davies’s performance runs out of rhetorical interest.
Company of A Clockwork Orange. Photo: Caitlin McNaney.
The performers’ trim physiques are dressed by “costume coordinator” Jennifer A. Jacob in tight clothing consisting, mainly, of black pants and white or black tank tops supported by contrasting white or black suspenders, although Alex is often shirtless. More conventional black or white shirts are worn by establishment figures, and the essentially monotone effect is heightened not only by James Baggaley’s rock-concert lighting but by bright orange touches here and there, like a tie or apron.
Jonno Davies, Matt Doyle, Ashley Robinson, Alexsander Varadian. Photo: Caitlin McNaney.
The same applies to the black environment, played thrust-stage style with several rows of orange-painted seats on the left and right sides, although the majority of the audience at New World Stages views the play from a proscenium stage viewpoint.

Well-done as the choreographic movement is, particularly in the bone-crushing fight and rape scenes (including one with a broken bottle) with their occasional slow-mo sequences, we get caught up more in its technical than emotional or painful aspects, a problem dominating the entire ramped-up production. Much of the business has an overtly homoerotic quality, including even the occasional kiss, but the high-pressure theatrics make it difficult to accept anything as real, much less erotic.

Burgess’s version, only one of many attempts to adapt his novel to the stage (including an Off-Off Broadway version in 2015), hews closely to his original plot (which can be examined here); it even offers the original’s optimistic conclusion, cut from the book’s American publication and ignored by Kubrick’s movie. For all the energy and dynamism of this production, though, the play’s presentation favors form over substance, i.e., it could use more orange and less clockwork.


New World Stages
340 W. 50th St., NYC
Through January 6, 2018